Traits of a Great Online School

Deciding to pursue your degree through distance learning education is a big step; however, you'll still have to decide which online program is best for you. Here are some considerations to keep in mind, when selecting an online degree program.

  • Institutional Accreditation: Institutional accreditation is a way of judging the overall quality of a school. During the institutional accreditation process, a third-party non-profit organization examines many aspects of a school, such as the education and professional experience of faculty, curriculum, and graduation requirements. Only schools that meet the accrediting body's standards will receive their stamp of approval. Institutional accreditation is given out by both regional and nationwide accrediting bodies. You can see the Department of Education's list of accredited institutions here. Keep in mind that a few legitimate schools don't pursue accreditation for their own reasons; however, this number is very small, and be sure to do a thorough investigation of any non-accredited school's legitimacy before you enroll.            
  • Programmatic Accreditation: This type of accreditation is secondary to institutional accreditation, and is important for people in particular industries and career paths. In programmatic accreditation, a single department or degree program is evaluated by a more specialized accrediting agency. The Bureau of Labor Statistics page for your career will tell you if programmatic accreditation is pertinent to your education and career path.
  • Financial Aid Opportunities: If paying for college is a concern for you (and it is for most of us), then be sure to evaluate an online school's financial aid opportunities. See if the school is eligible to receive Federal funding, by asking the financial aid officer; then see what other scholarships or aid are offered to incoming students. Some schools offer total need-based aid, while others have more limited resources available.
  • Online Interactivity: Check out the school's online learning environment. Does the site look up to date and have the latest capabilities? Are students easily able to video chat or instant message with their professors and peers? Top online programs will make it easy for students to harness the web to communicate.
  • Student Services: What student support services are available to students? Is there an online library or journal access? What about tutoring if you need special help in a class? Many schools offer private job listings for students, resume help, an other career services, as well.
  • In-Person Requirements: Many online programs have on-campus requirements that students must fulfill before they graduate. These may be required only a few times a year, or they may be more frequent; they may range from seminars and colloquiums to networking opportunities. Make sure that the in-person requirements of the online programs you are looking at mesh with the other obligations in your life. (